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CAD Tech News (#136)

15 Oct, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff


Herrera on Hardware: NVIDIA Unveils Ampere-Generation RTX A6000 and A40, Affirming Evolving — and Aggressive — Path for its GPUs

The retirement of NVIDIA's Quadro brand is further evidence of the GPU's changing role and shape.

By Alex Herrera

The pandemic didn't stop NVIDIA from convening its annual GPU Technology Conference (GTC) last spring. The conference went fully virtual and by all accounts proved successful, so much so that more than a few participants were left wondering why conferences like GTC didn't take that path long ago. That sentiment, along with the realization of how much simpler it was to host GTC virtually, likely led NVIDIA to double up on GTC this year, convening the virtual show once again this October.

Last spring, the company's new Ampere-generation graphics processing unit (GPU) grabbed the bulk of the limelight. And among the priority pitches the company positioned for October's session was the fruit of the company's successful acquisition of Mellanox. A new breed of datacenter device designed to monitor, analyze, and secure network traffic called for a new name and acronym and NVIDIA obliged, welcoming the birth of the data processing unit (DPU). Not coincidentally, it's also a device harnessing the technology of an even bigger acquisition the company is in the process of closing, Arm — the owner and licensor of the ubiquitous (outside of PCs) Arm processors.

But despite its attentions being pushed elsewhere, NVIDIA managed to put out a new professional-caliber GPU, in the form of product called the RTX A6000 — the first of likely several Ampere-generation GPUs focused on professional visualization applications. First and foremost among those applications is CAD, and the RTX A6000 should deliver meaningful performance boosts for both the traditional 3D graphics use and emerging uses in rendering and compute acceleration.

RTX A6000, the First Professional Quadro GPU Built from Ampere

With Ampere unveiled and launched on the GeForce side of the house, it was only a matter of time before we'd see the first Ampere-based Quadro. In October of 2020, NVIDIA unveiled the RTX A6000 (with the A prefix standing for Ampere).

Typically, the first product based on a new generation appears at the upper end of the product line, and this was no exception. Raw specs on the A6000 track that of the company's first and top-end gaming-focused GeForce RTX 3080/90 based on Ampere. All leverage the GA102 chip, the graphics-focused derivative of the flagship datacenter-oriented A100 launched at Ampere's coming-out party last spring. NVIDIA maxed out memory on the RTX A6000, pairing the GA102 with 48 GB of GDDR6 memory, resulting in a card that comes in at a thermal design power, or TDP (the typically-not-to-exceed power) of 300 W.

The RTX A6000. Image source: NVIDIA.
The RTX A6000. Image source: NVIDIA.

Expect to see the RTX A6000 in the channel by the end of 2020, and shipping in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) workstations in early 2021.

The end of the Quadro brand (at least for now). Interestingly, NVIDIA at the last moment decided to drop the long-time Quadro brand, so we're now supposed to call it the RTX A6000 for professionals, or something like that. More on the likely rationale behind the company's decision to ditch the Quadro name ahead.

What Ampere Brings to CAD Professionals

In comparison with its direct predecessor, the previous-generation Turing-class Quadro RTX 6000, the RTX A6000's raw specs suggest a rough doubling of maximum achievable performance. By populating more CUDA cores (the atomic processing element in the GPU's array of cores responsible for executing the 3D graphics pipeline), the RTX A6000 can manage up to 39 TFLOPS (32-bit floating point operations per second), which is around 2X faster than Turing. These set an upper bound of twice the speed-up compared to Turing for 3D graphics — still the top priority for most CAD users — as well as for GPU-accelerated computation for uses ranging from engineering simulations like finite-element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) as well as assisting on rendering.

Furthermore, those two uses — graphics and compute — more frequently occur in parallel in the most efficient workflows. So those additional cores don't just enable a speed-up for each use, but allow users to run more GPU-intensive workloads in parallel. NVIDIA configured a commensurate doubling of graphics memory footprint, outfitting the RTX A6000 with an impressive 48 GB of GDDR6 memory. Granted, 48 GB is overkill for the majority of mainstream CAD projects primarily leaning on the GPU for graphics. But it absolutely can help for large-scale applications in automotive, aerospace, building information modeling (BIM) and geographic information systems (GIS), especially when leaning on the GPU for tasks like simulation and rendering. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

Sponsored: When Crises Disrupt Workflows, Computing Hardware Can Make the Difference Between Floundering and Prospering

Equipping your team for a successful work-from-home experience can enable your company to boost efficiency in challenging times.

By Fujitsu

Professionals around the world are struggling with unforeseen challenges right now. Most were caught completely off guard by a forced work-from-home (WFH) scenario, lacking the equipment necessary to continue their work in an efficient and productive manner.

The current crisis is influencing our behavior as end customers as well as our working style — and will continue to have an impact well in the future. To endure and thrive, companies must analyze their existing workflows and adjust them to the new situation. Fortunately, times of uncertainty are often the best times to upgrade computing infrastructure, boost productivity, and get a leg up on the competition.

Currently, many companies are purchasing new workstations to equip their power users, creators, design engineers, and visual effects (VFX) specialists for new WFH scenarios, explained Suman Singh, CELSIUS Workstations Product Marketing Manager at Fujitsu. "These professionals who work with highly demanding workloads still need powerful, reliable desktop workstations," he explained. "This is the right time to get more efficient in daily work routines or to streamline operations — to do more iterations, run a greater number of simulations in less time, without any loss of data integrity."

A key factor in achieving those efficiency increases is dodging the slowdowns brought on by outdated hardware. "Imagine the plight of a power user working on an advanced application or 3D model design from home, but with an old, slow, unreliable, underpowered system that his company sent him home with," Singh said. This can be a nightmare scenario for any professional, but especially for those who work with large datasets that extend rendering time. Long rendering wait times drag down project efficiency and delay production, resulting in higher project costs — and they also disrupt the creative flow.

The Downsides of Disruptions — and How the Right Hardware Can Help

All eyes are on the coronavirus crisis for now, but those who have been in business for a while understand that the landscape is continually being reshaped by unexpected events — an unending procession of them. Whether it's a pandemic, a change in import restrictions, a supply chain meltdown, the introduction of new governmental regulations, or any of the other myriad disruptions that can turn "business as usual" on its head, certain negative impacts are likely:

Disruptions increase complexity. Even in the best times, companies are already juggling multiple teams, locations, software applications, and file formats. Events such as mergers, public health crises, and moves to WFH exacerbate these challenges. In the face of additional obstacles, employees need reliable devices to minimize system downtime and produce quality content.

Disruptions create havoc with staffing. Perhaps you have fewer employees after a company restructuring — or more, thanks to an acquisition or an influx of new hires (but they're all untrained). Or the number of workers has remained the same, but they've been uprooted from their familiar workgroups, and they're struggling to adjust to isolated WFH environments.
 

What's the best approach for purchasing new hardware when staffing levels are in flux? Workstations have been, and always will be, highly reliable for demanding applications and workflows; COVID-19 did not change that. However, there is a new demand from IT departments for maintaining hardware, and especially software, in a more secure way.

Many companies have mobile machines top of mind right now, but that's not the only option. "Companies with short-term vision will do the easy thing: shift to mobile workstations wherever possible," said Manuel Saller, Product Category Manger Europe for CELSIUS Workstations at Fujitsu. "They will keep or buy new desktop workstations only for the projects/workflows/workloads where it's a must. Companies with long-term vision and clarity will plan for an appropriate mix including mobile, rack, and desktop workstations; virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI); and GPU virtualization." Finding that "appropriate mix" for any particular scenario or workflow demand will require an examination of individual requirements; keep an open mind and evaluate the pros and cons of mobile, deskbound, and remote working styles for your needs. Read more »

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About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff